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Imma get mine!

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Deepinit, Jun 9, 2011.

  1. Deepinit

    Deepinit
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    A few months back I finally got into a white collar gig the marketing department for a multinational corporation and for the most part, I've been killing it, determined that there's no fucking way on God's earth that I'm going back to the warehouse work I had been doing prior. I like the company. I like the people and I feel I've finally found a place that I want to make a career out of this.

    Last week we were informed that a number of national executive heads visiting our department followed by a meet and greet. I don't want to be that guy who just shows up to grab some free take out and fucks off. I want to approach them and get some advice on what path to take to get out of the cheap seats and into the corporate box.

    Bottom line, What are the basic do's and don'ts when talking to a director near the top top? How does one ask "How do I get your job?" without sounding arrogant, ignorant or just plain douchey?

    For those on the board who hold executive positions at your respective corporations (there's gotta be a few of you), what kind of attitude are you most receptive to from those well below your station during these meet and greets? Do you really care what they have to say or are these types of trips just an excuse to go on a bender on the company dime?

    FOCUS 1: Got any advice?

    FOCUS 2: Funny/career/life changing stories stemming from encounters with your bosses boss[es boss].
     
  2. DrFrylock

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    This is a subtle and tricky subject because every executive is a little different, and they will generally pick up on very subtle things that most people miss. Most executives I have met are highly-attuned to what's going on around them, and they work on multiple levels simultaneously. So when they're talking to someone like you, on one level there's the surface conversation you're actually having. On another level, there's the meta-conversation: what is your communication style? What is it you want? What is it you're afraid of? On another level there's your body language and how you carry yourself. On yet-another level there's your motivation for having the conversation in the first place.

    In terms of how you carry yourself, be confident but not douchey and engaged but not sycophantic. Look him or her in the eye, shake hands firmly, smile, listen carefully.

    In terms of the conversation, be interesting. That's easier said than done for a lot of people. Ask interesting questions. Give interesting, thoughtful answers to his or her questions. Also, be appropriate: ask questions that are appropriate for this person and for your relationship with them. Don't ask the executive VP where the bathroom is. Don't ask the general counsel for advice about your troubles with your baby mama. If you're at the bottom of the ladder and they're close to the top, the thing you want to ask them is not "how do I get your job" - at least, not directly. Make no mistake: people with ambition (like them) think about that all the time, but they think about it in terms of strategic moves. They want to win the chess game, so how do they get from the current configuration of the board to one in which they're winning?

    Executives are constantly thinking on two levels: strategically and tactically. But at the highest levels, they are primarily concerned with strategy. So ask strategic questions about your career. You want to come to an understanding of the trajectory you're going in - the actual destination is not as important as the trajectory.

    Of course, a trajectory has a destination, and you should know what your destination is. Do you want this executive's job specifically, or do you want a job like that executive's job? Why do you want that job? Just for the power and prestige? Not good enough. You have to have a motivation beyond just a lust for power and money - passion helps quite a bit. Also if you are looking at executives, these people are by-and-large managers. Their primary profession is management of humans and resources, regardless of what industry your company is in. Are you interested in being a manager? If you care too much about technical aspects of the business, and not enough about management, maybe that's not the place you want to be. And that's OK.

    Express a reasonable goal as a long-term destination, and then talk about the steps/waypoints you would likely go through to achieve that. Ask about how they moved up through the ranks. Do you start as a line manager, then do a rotation in the company's West Coast office, then do an MBA at night, then move to the corporate headquarters in Pawtucket for five years? Does the company hire from outside and so you need to make lateral moves on your way up? What's the strategy?

    Finally, you can ask about tactics to implement the strategy. OK, so you're a worker bee now, what can you do in the next year or two to start positioning yourself to move one step further along in your strategy? Should you take management classes from the company? Should you look for certain kinds of leadership roles? Should you join some intra-company organization? I know a couple of ambitious people that constantly shoot themselves in the foot by trying to jump the ladder. They are constantly trying to get "face time" with their boss' boss' boss. In the end, they are ultimately out of line, doing an end-run, and they get shot down. They need to be concentrating on doing their job well and positioning themselves for the next level up in the chain - not four levels up.

    In general, executives and other high-level people basically enjoy mentoring promising youngsters. Just having the gumption to talk to them is a first step, but remember that you're going to very slowly try to build a relationship with this person. It won't be a close relationship, but you want to get to the level where you can ask a few key questions about career advice once every six months by email. You do want to be in their social network - not in the center (because you don't belong there) but comfortably at the periphery.

    Ultimately, the meta-conversation is as important as the conversation itself, and that's the hardest thing to give advice on. Executives are sometimes indirect and often subtle. They will watch how you interact with them (and others): do you know when to talk and when to listen? Do you have interesting things to say? Do you have insights that contribute to a conversation? Are those insights surprisingly good for someone your age? Can you pick up on the subtext of a conversation? Do you know how and when it's appropriate to use humor? Do you have the ability to pick up on people's motivation and mindset when you're talking to them? Do you know when it's appropriate to stay in your appointed role and when it's appropriate to venture beyond it? Do you know how to modulate your communication style to match theirs? These are all things that are very hard to fake, and they have to be practiced, but they're the kinds of things executives are trained to do both implicitly and explicitly.

    If you have trusted senior mentors, consider debriefing with them after talking to an exec. I find this very helpful, because as careful as I am, even I sometimes miss subtle cues or context. Sometimes there is information from the past - the executive's personal experiences, for example - that I don't know, but helps to explain things. We also talk about things like communication styles: is that person high D? Low S? etc. That sounds like pop science and it can be if you treat it as such, but used appropriately it helps you do some very small things that can make a big difference in how you're perceived.

    Anyway, relax, be the best version of yourself, and good luck.
     
  3. Frank

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    A few things to consider, this may sound cynical but by in large it is mostly true:

    - Executives are not this club of people waiting for young stars to rise through the ranks and join them in glory, by and large they want as little competition as possible, so don't buy into everything they tell you unless one of them takes an obvious liking to you. They are not your friend, and they not your family, to them you are a means to an end, nothing more, nothing less. Don't think for a moment that your boss or their boss wouldn't throw you under the bus or try to stop you from being promoted if there is a financial benefit for them. Many of these people got to where they are because they stepped over the most bodies.

    - Read between the lines: don't take people's word for it, look at the behavior, skill set and style the successful people in your company have in common and emulate it, don't ask what these things are because you'll never get a straight answer. Not because they don't want to give you a straight answer, but because many of these people aren't honest with themselves about why they are successful, no one wants to admit they got to where they are by being a cutthroat asshole, they all honestly believe they are just the hardest and/or smartest workers.
     
  4. sartirious

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    The office I work in has a unique corporate culture, and they are very focused upon talent development. For example, a new director was recently promoted into our division, and she did a little meet-and-greet to let all of us know a bit more about her. She told a story about how when she was applying for a promotion earlier in her career, she had an appointment with her group manager as a final step. She prepared and prepared for this meeting, and was confident that she could rock it and leave no doubt in the GM's mind that the job duties would be in good hands. But when she sat down with her GM, all he wanted to hear about was leadership in her current role. He wanted to know what she was doing to develop the skills and talents of her current direct reports, and how she could help develop the skills and talents of all the additional people that would now be reporting to her.

    The idea was: if you're able to get hired (or considered for promotion) in the first place - we the company are already confident that you can do the job, now we want to know how you can bring out the best in everyone else. Like DrFrylock said, relationship skills are key - very few executives rise to the top because of their technical chops alone; they know how to network and make the most of their connections.

    Focus: Don't waste their time! All of the executives and managers that I know work very long hours, and aren't very tolerant of a peon requesting a meeting with them 'just to chat'. Think long and hard before hand, and have an agenda. Figure out a few things from this thread that you want to discuss with them, and mentally work your way down the list. If they decide to take the conversation off-topic and start bullshitting about the local sports team/recent weather - go for it, but I wouldn't necessarily start there.
     
  5. lust4life

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    1. Know enough about the company, it's competition and it's market to ask intelligent questions. Expressing an honest desire to learn goes a lot further than acting like a sexual intellectual (a fucking know-it-all).

    2. Don't be a suck up. Typically, that's how you'll be remembered and how you will remain. The people who surround themselves with sycophants tend to keep those people in that role.

    3. Get as much info about the execs you'll be meeting as possible. Ceck out their bio on the company website, ask other employees who have been around a while what their reputation is, etc. This will help you know who is worth approaching and what his/her background is.

    4. Don't overdo it. Follow their lead. If their body language (e.g., they're looking elsewhere while talking to you, shifting around, etc.), thank them for their time and move on. Even if you've engaged someone well, don't overstay your welcome. The next thing to do would be...

    5. Follow up with that person via email, thanking him for his time and insights on one or two of the more salient points in your conversation. Close with something that requires a response to keep the dialogue open. Look for something in the conversation that you can do a little more research on, and ask him a question about it. Keep it focused on his area of the business. And be careful about typos, sentence structure, etc. Your post above may have been typed in haste and unintentionally poor, but it still leaves a poor impression, especially for someone in marketing where communication skills are fundamentally crucial.

    Good luck!
     
  6. Juice

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    I thought the same thing when I started in my current path. Heres my advice to you:

    -Know exactly what you're talking about, especially with confidence. After youve been in your job for a while, start positioning yourself as the "go-to" person around the office, even if it means youre the lowest rung on the ladder. Carve out a little niche for yourself and become knowlegable enough in a specific little area where people can come to you with questions if they need too. I know a decent amount of IT and being one of the few IT auditors in my department thats not a social recluse, I made myself the point man for IT related issues, whether they have to do with auditing or not. The director or VP of your area will eventually take notice.

    -Bring people to the top with you. I never accepted the idea that you need to step on people's throats to move up. Maybe Im naive in this respect, but even in a highly competitive environment if youre good at what you do, you wont have too. If you want to work in the same position as your director or have them bring you up, theyre not going to want to work with an asshole that they have to worry about being a (direct) threat. This doesnt mean that you should stay behind for others either, just help everyone, give credit to others publicly when its due, and it will work in your favor.

    -For the love of God, do not kiss anyones ass or be a pain in the ass. The best philosophy I found for myself, is the less my direct boss has to talk to me or deal with me, the better. Ive seen her have to micromanage others in the department or sit there with a fake smile while people kiss her ass quite clearly looking for a leg up into a promotion. Keep to yourself, but be social when you have too. You might think your boss is ignoring you, but when it comes time for your review, theyll remember that they dont need to keep an eye on you or think about what a sycophant you are.
     
  7. Celos

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    Darryl?